April 1 vs. Dallas Stars at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Dallas Stars (36-27-11)
Washington Capitals (34-28-13)
If the Caps are serious about making a run for one of the final Stanley Cup playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, they need to stop fooling around. And there’s no better time to do so than on April Fool’s Day with the Dallas Stars in town and providing the opposition on Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s tilt with the Stars is Washington’s lone stop home during a stretch in which it must play five of six games on the road. It’s also the second of four straight games against opponents who are also currently on the outside of the playoff bubble.
Since posting an impressive 2-0-1 on a daunting California trip against elite opponents and coming home with the best Golden State tour in Washington’s franchise history, the Caps have foundered a bit.
Hosting the Los Angeles Kings a week ago, the Caps were less than a period away from defeating the Kings and carrying forth with that west coast momentum. But three quick goals by the Kings in the third erased Washington’s 3-1 final frame advantage, and the Caps needed a last-minute tally from Evgeny Kuznetsov with the goaltender pulled to merely salvage a point in what turned out to be a 5-4 shootout setback.
Since losing their lead in the third period of that game against Los Angeles last Tuesday, the Caps have owned a lead for less than two minutes of the 141 minutes and 19 seconds of hockey they’ve played. More worrisome, they’ve collected only two of the six points available to them, and only have 14 more points on the table for the taking.
Washington started poorly and found its footing far too late in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Bruins at Verizon Center, and it squandered a brief early lead on Sunday in Nashville, spending most of the night chasing the Predators and coming up on the short end of a 4-3 score.
“I thought we were just a little bit lackadaisical here and there throughout the game,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson after Sunday’s loss in Nashville. “We’ve been talking since day one about playing sixty minutes because when we all start going, it’s fun to watch. We control the play completely against every team we’ve ever played. We just have too many lapses.”
With the calendar now reading “April,” the Caps can’t afford to be lackadaisical or to have those lapses to which Carlson refers. They’ve still got Western Conference heavyweights St. Louis and Chicago ahead on the schedule horizon, and the Capitals finish the campaign with a home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, owners of the fourth best record in the 16-team Eastern Conference.
Although the Capitals have collected at least a point in seven of their last eight games (4-1-3), they have also earned just one victory in their last five games (1-1-3). Last season, the Caps earned 24 regulation and overtime victories in just 48 games in a lockout-abbreviated campaign. This season, they’ve had just one more (25) regulation and overtime triumph despite playing 27 more games.
Washington has seven games remaining, and the Caps trail Columbus by a single point for the second of two available Eastern Conference wild card playoff berths. The Blue Jackets have a game in hand on the Capitals and they also hold the tiebreaker in the standings. That means the Caps need two more points than the Jackets the rest of the way, despite that game in hand.
Although the Stars occupy the Pacific Division basement and are also on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff positioning, the Caps shouldn’t expect them to be pushovers. Like Washington, Dallas is a single point south of the final playoff berth in its conference. The Stars trail eighth-place Phoenix by one point. Dallas has a game in hand, and the two teams also meet in Phoenix in what will be the regular season finale for both clubs.
Dallas has won four of its last five games; the Stars’ lone misstep during that stretch was a 4-2 road loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago last Tuesday. Dallas has outscored its foes by a combined total of 18-11 in those last five games,
If there is a chink in the Stars’ collective armor that the Capitals might be able to exploit, it could be the Dallas penalty-killing outfit. In 16 games since the conclusion of the NHL’s Olympic break, the Stars have allowed at least one power-play goal in nine of those contests.
The two teams previously met this season back on Oct. 5 in Dallas. The Caps grabbed a 1-0 lead in that game, but Dallas prevailed 2-1 in the end. With two home games remaining this season against Western Conference foes, the Capitals are now an impressive 8-2-2 against their foes from the opposite conference in games played in the District.